Rescuing Stranded Scenes in Guilty Crown

Sometimes a pivotal scene will simply fail. You’ll hear rousing music, animation quality will skyrocket, and the main character may suddenly gain whatever he was lacking to overcome the challenge, but all of it rings hollow. It doesn’t matter that the production studio has pulled all stops and warned you that a significant turn is about to happen. At this point, you’ve already stopped caring, and their attempt to engage you only makes it worse. Nevertheless, there’s nothing intrinsically poor with what’s playing before your eyes. If you cared just a little more about the characters, or the plot’s intrigue had built just a little more suspense, the exact same scene would have elicited a far different response. What went wrong? (Spoilers for Guilty Crown, as should be expected.)

On a technical level, Guilty Crown’s penultimate scene in episode eleven is exactly this. The show sets up the perfect excuse for an insert of the ending song. Production I.G. gives themselves creative license to throw pretty CG strands around well animated cars and exploding bridges. Shu even finally pushes forward his own character development by growing a pair and springing into action. At least, he would have had character development, if not for the fact that his decision was spontaneous, his character relations are tenuous, and his reasoning never quite expands beyond “I must.” Given a character with believable growth in his confidence, we might have gotten a powerful look into the how the change of his behavior increased his capabilities. Instead, Shu’s vapidity drains any such satisfaction, as well as leaving one wondering about the plot holes that led to such a scenario. So much for a good scene.

Incompetent shows constantly bankrupt their key scenes, even when they’re well done, because the shows’ weaknesses can remove any kind of weight the scenes carry. What is worse is that these scenes can often weaken the shows even further because they fail to engage the audience, making them seem manipulative or extraneous. Since the audience’s problem is one of emotional connection beyond the scene, it is logical to assume that something went awry in the narrative structure. Specifically, at some particular point of time the narrative failed to impart or capitalize on a particular impression the audience needed to empathize with in order to engage the scene correctly. To pinpoint an exact general problem that causes this, however, is much trickier. Is there a single thing that the production studios are doing wrong that detract from these scenes and make them worse?

Take, for example, the opening sequence of Guilty Crown. We’re treated to a glimpse Guilty Crown’s rather grand scale through Inori’s desperate attempt to flee the Endlaves and Shu’s idle viewing of her PV, all set to the eerie backdrop of Euterpe. Changes happen to the beat of the song and movement happens fluidly because Production I.G. sank enough budget into it to put every other show airing last season to shame. In one go, we’re already intrigued by both Inori and Shu’s roles, as well as trying to make sense of the situation Inori’s got herself in. As a first impression, the scene is extremely competent and builds the correct (albeit misleading) expectations it wishes to impart to the audience.

The problem arises when Shu’s monologue comes before his discovery of Inori. We’re given another separate look at both of the characters when we really should not. The opening scene has already framed some kind of picture of the two, but Shu’s inner thoughts simply sweep it under the rug to tell us again in a much more elaborate but boring explanation. Equally frustrating is his monologue’s unfortunate positioning between the opening scene and when Shu finds Inori. The transition of a logical sequence of events becomes drawn out, making the two much less dependent on each other. If the two scenes had been together, it would seem natural that the opening sequence would develop into their meeting. Instead, we view their meeting as on some level isolated from the opening. The result is that the opening sequence feels unnecessary. With its current set up, Guilty Crown could have begun with the monologue and gone from there without losing anything except a pretty hook for the series. The double introduction thus renders the opening scene useless, leaving it oddly out of place and further detracting from what could have been a much tighter script. Unlike the first example, however, the issues of the scene seem very different, even if they seem to both come from some hole in the narrative.

Another scene that was done rather well and falls much more in line with the first example is Shu’s mock battle with Ayase in episode 5. Shu has gone through the entire episode training in order to gain some acceptance, and he beats Ayase with aplomb by cheating. That’s hardly an issue. In isolation, the scene is likely a good representation of how Shu learns to harness his rather broken power and implement it cunningly. What is again a problem is that when this scene is viewed in context of the whole, it hardly changes anything. Shu has not learned something new about his power, nor has he become more proficient. He continues to use it the same way he’s been using it since episode one, and he rarely ever strays from Gai’s command on how to use it. While the development is similar to the first example because we are unable to sympathize with his nonexistant change, the scene holds the same problems as the second in that it seems extraneous because it changed nothing in the grand scheme of the plot.

In a sense, Guilty Crown and many other shows like it are composed of some well executed scenes that are dwarfed by how cringe worthy the rest are. Unlike what one would expect, however, the poor scenes sometimes result in a domino effect, making the rather well constructed scenes look just as bad. What causes this? Ultimately, I don’t know. I’ve merely pointed to specific examples and explained the different ways they come short. Perhaps I’m looking for a nonexistent overlying issue that pulls them all down, and they’re simply victims of the same varying issues that can make a show less than stellar. Maybe the scenes I brought up are really just poorly made and I missed it. Or I could just be finding more excuses to rag on Guilty Crown. Regardless, I do believe that there are many scenes that could have struck much more engagement; they merely had the bad luck of being part of a bad anime.

4 Responses to “Rescuing Stranded Scenes in Guilty Crown”

  1. Just as a good anime is more than the sum of its parts, a bad anime is often less than the sum of its parts. Guilty Crown is really undone by a combination of poor writing and misguided directing. It’s exactly as you say. Whatever few good scenes are there are undermined by the larger context. Hell, some of the “good” scenes are only good because of the eye candy, not what they contribute to the story, and the scenes that do contribute to the story often come off as hammy or inane. I found the discussion we had in the latest podcast to be really illuminating, because I think the others were able to nail the biggest problem with Guilty Crown that, up until that point, I couldn’t quite put my finger on: it doesn’t have a strong central focus. Even at this point, I’m not sure what it’s trying to get at, or what it’s core message is.

  2. I remember listening to your podcast talking about the problem of Guilty Crown.

    Episode 11 is something I want to talk about. There is this scene were Shu is making his grand entrance and we flash to all the funeral parlor members’ reaction shot. I’m just sitting hear stone faced when I know I should be jumping out of my sit saying “F*** YEAH Shu”

    There is a similar emotional gap involving Inori’s song number. The visuals are their, the song sounds like it fits the situation and the tension is high. However, this scene is attached to Inori who is basically a walking doll(Who as a character lost all my respect after the stunt in episode 5). It feels like she drains all the life from the scene.

    I’ll leave you with this, imagine if Hare was the one singing instead of Inori. Or have Yahiro (Sugar) or Souta replace Shu as the main character . These scenes have a greater chance of resonating because these are characters we can support.

    Sometimes you just feel sorry for Guilty Crown. It’s trying the best it can but it just falls short in the character department.


  3. Ugh, this is such a good article. Thanks for the read.

    I think Sorrow-kun has the gist of it. When an anime is bad, it’s easiest to point out all the faults and ignore its strengths. Often times we even mistake those strengths as weaknesses. The same applies to good anime, too, as we praise them for well written dialogue, good pacing, and thoroughly crafted plots, but in the process we ignore the poorer aspects of the show, or overlook them in favor of the good. That’s just how our minds work; if something is created exceptionally well, the small errors throughout make little difference to us. Yet, if something is created poorly we write all of it off as senseless dribble, no matter how well certain scenes are executed

  4. While I definitely understand the physical problem, I just found that in watching Guilty Crown, I didn’t really care. For some reason, it was an anime that I really loved. I don’t really get why – the most logical answer would be to say that an anime is not made of only plot – if it were, and that was all I cared about, I would definitely have hated Angel Beats!, but again, I found myself in a position against the general consensus. And while I know that Clannad is probably better executed, scripted and made than Angel Beats!, I absolutely despise it. I think I could reason this to the fact that Angel Beats! is fairly fast, and is effective at quickly changing tone – something I again got from Guilty Crown. Funnily enough, I think it is the same jumbled plot that they both get criticized for that makes me love them. Guilty Crown, for example, has an insane amount of plot that doesn’t come through when watching it for the first time, and it has some scenes, which for me make the entire show worth watching. Notable examples include after Hare’s death (the void prince arc is fantastic – seeing Shu change, yet stay the same is amazing), and as you mentioned episode 11. That single scene is to me one of the best scenes in all the anime I have ever watched. Admittedly, Guilty Crown was one of the only anime of its type that I have seen (I normally just stick to Romance / Comedy), but Guilty Crown remains my absolute go-to for quick entertainment.

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